My name is Erik Michiels and I have been a project manager at PHPro for 5 years now. For almost 4 years, I am also a team manager, which involves coaching our people in the team. And for the last six months I have also been 'happiness ambassador', which means I am involved in organizing all events within PHPro... The fun stuff!
How did you end up at PHPro?
Through a LinkedIn recruiter. I was working at another company at that time and I wasn't very happy there. The atmosphere there was not good at all. Then I got contacted for an interview at PHPro and it went very well. During this interview, I noticed the very human aspect of PHPro and that convinced me to make the switch.
Which projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on several projects, like: Hopper (Scouting Flanders), PizzaHut, Mundero, Vinetiq, KBC, VLIR and Wandelsport Vlaanderen.
There are lots of ways to do project management. Which methodology do you prefer to use?
We work pretty Agile here, but not 100%. We use the points that are applicable within PHPro. I think it is a good methodology because you can keep up to date with the team through the daily stand-ups and every two weeks we take the time to do a retrospective where everyone can have their say. it’s an opportunity to have fixed moments to sit down with your team, as a collective, and respond to the needs of the project. And in the end, the framework itself doesn't matter, if your team doesn't support it then it won't work - and vice versa.
As a project manager, it is important that you keep an eye on the scope & budget to avoid missing any deadlines. If one of those things gets jeopardized, how do you prioritize tasks?
If I notice that one of the things in the project is in danger of being compromised, I will always escalate it internally first and have a brief discussion with other colleagues to see how they would handle it. It is also important to inform the client as early as possible. On a very active project, you ideally have a monthly meeting with the management group and all stakeholders, including the sponsor. During such a meeting, it is important that everything is then charted very clearly: What has been spent? What do we still need to spend? And where will we eventually land? If something does not go according to plan, we can quickly take action, for instance by releasing extra budget or removing something from the scope.
How did you experience your role as PM during the pandemic, when many projects did become a bit more challenging?
In the end, we did very well during the pandemic. Developers' work was prepared, and they could complete it very autonomously. Questions could be asked via Teams.
But admittedly: For myself, as a project manager, I did have a harder time. I like to have a lot of contact with people. I often have to go from meeting to meeting, and during the pandemic, these were often very long days of 9-10 hour long calls. For me, that was really tough. Technology allows it and it is 100% possible to work from home. But personally, I think that social contact is very important and as a project manager that was more difficult during that period.
As PM, you are not only responsible for the project itself but also for the team and the stakeholders. How do you keep all parties satisfied?
That is a challenge, no doubt. As a project manager, you have the "official meetings" and the "unofficial meetings". You have to see that your meeting is done before the official meeting starts. You still have to try to get an informal conversation in-between here and there. For example: When I have prepared slides for a presentation, I often call the manager in advance to go over them together, that way you already have buy-in from the customer. But that is of course very intensive, you have to contact a lot of people by calling them or making team calls.
So how do you deal with the "more difficult" people in a project?
In project management, new things are often implemented and that creates fear in some people, so they start acting more difficult. With these people, you sometimes tend to procrastinate and push back bad news. But it is by actually approaching them proactively that you often do get them on board. Just approach them very precisely and factually and, above all, don't make any promises you can't keep.
You should also always realize that, as a project manager, you are never alone. If you don't get it solved yourself, you can always escalate something within the team and management will surely help too.
As a PM, you can't do everything yourself so some delegation is needed. Which tasks do you find difficult to delegate?
That's one of my pitfalls: I want to do as much as possible by myself. I do prefer to outsource technical analysis. I am not an expert in this kind of analysis and others in the team are much better at it. But I still like to do the functional analysis and validation myself, whereas I should entrust that more to my colleagues, who are better at it 😊.
Have you ever felt really overwhelmed by a project? If so, how do you deal with that?
Sometimes it happens, when you have many projects running in parallel. Then everything comes at once. Purely mathematically, all those projects are manageable, but in reality it’s challenging! For instance, all the customers come at the same time with all their questions or you have a lot of simultaneous deadlines. That can be very overwhelming sometimes and you can no longer see the forest for the trees.
But, at such moments, you are very well supported by your colleagues, the other project managers, your project team, the managing partners, and so on. You can always turn to someone for sparring. Until now, it has never happened that a situation could not be solved. There is always someone who can help you when you can't see it yourself. So I can only give one tip: Don't get stuck with such things because you will drown in the long run. But go to your colleagues and look for solutions together.
Which has been your most challenging project and why?
I have had several challenging projects, but if I have to choose one it would be the project at Vinetiq. That was a Magento project and also my first Magento project. Magento was a completely new platform for me, I had absolutely no experience with it. There were also two interns working on the project and a junior PO. So we were basically all rookies, in a platform that was unknown to me. So that made it hugely challenging. In addition, Vinetiq was still a start-up with low budget back then, which made it extra challenging to be able to complete the full scope within time and budget. But it did work out in the end. It was very hard, but then victory tastes even better!
How did your last project end?
My last project was only recently delivered but was a hit! That was PizzaHut's technical migration from the old framework to Symfony. Thanks to the team, it was a great success. On this project, we stayed nicely within time, budget and scope. Full credit goes to the team.
What would you still really like to learn or improve?
What I would still like to learn is change management. That is always a challenge in projects. Customers often want lots of new things, but when those new things arrive, too many things change and that becomes difficult. So I would like to learn more about the process of change management and the power of persuasion to get customers on board.
In addition, people management is one of my strengths, but I would like to improve on that.
After a long day managing projects, what makes you relax and recharge?
Sports mainly. I always played basketball, although an injury has put me off that for a while now. But besides that, I often go to the gym or go swimming. I also like to go on city trips or enjoy a concert and relax especially with a lot of music. And of course organizing fun things for PHPro as well!